Covert Influence Operations: Illegal Lobbying, The Red Cross, And the National Republican Senatorial Committee

The FBI arrested Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai, director of the Kashimiri American Foundation, on Tuesday. Fai is charged with “illegal lobbying” on behalf of Pakistan. It’s believed that he worked for Pakistan’s intelligence service. Illegal lobbying is the legal term for what espionage professionals call “covert influence.” Evidence presented to the court revealed that Fai donated sums in the four figures to the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC).

Covert Influence Operations thrive on what Sun Tzu described as “Deception” tactics. Deception tactics are utilized to throw off viewpoints among those being influenced. Infiltration tactics into influential systems are critical for these covert operations as well–something the “Russian 10” spy ring was attempting to fulfill approximately one year ago.

Very few realize the difficulty intelligence and counterintelligence operatives endure when attempting to defeat these types of operations. Political correctness has been engrained in social spheres causing many to immediately cry out “Islamaphobia,” “Racism,” Sexism,” and so forth–something former CIA operative Kent Clizbe annotates in his book Willing Accomplices.

Covert Influence Operations are nothing new. The United States has been infiltrated time and again not only by our enemies but also our allies and our own citizens. The more conventional military types can relate to this practice via the principle of “shaping operations.” Shaping operations solely constitute prepping the battle space with information warfare and psychological warfare campaigns. Yes, covert operatives today are fulfilling these tactical components of shaping operations along with many more yet today, we must add one more component into the unique mix of covert influence tradecraft–illegal lobbying.

Syed Ghulam Nabi Fia is not the only spy who has utilized U.S. non-profit organizations as fronts to fulfill damaging affects to U.S. interests. Many non-profits have executed activities that counter U.S. national security initiatives. The International Red Cross has recently come under fire for training Taliban members in medical techniques. The Italian NGO Emergency too has fulfilled similar activities in Afghanistan countering coalition operations.

Covert Influence Operations do not necessarily occur solely inside the United States. Like any good human intelligence operation, assets and sources must be obtained to achieve the HUMINT mission. Some of these assets are overseas while others remain inside the U.S. Many don’t even know they are being run by intelligence handlers.

Espionage is nothing new. For as long as the spying profession existed, so has espionage. Today, a relatively new form of espionage operation has come to the spotlight–Covert Influence Operations. These operations are difficult for even the most seasoned counter intelligence operative to detect. When they are detected, operatives must face the political correctness battle and the legalities of collecting intelligence on U.S. persons when such individuals are involved according to E.O. 12333.

Until the United States realizes this threat could be more devastating to national security then stealing nuclear secrets, our national security will remain in austere jeopardy. The threat exists, it is nothing new, yet it can change everything about the way we live as a nation especially when non-nation state players engage in these activities like terrorists from Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, and others–unless the threat is stopped. Elections are soon to come–maybe it’s time we begin vetting our candidates with greater insight to detect Covert Influence Operations.

Kerry Patton is the Co-Founder of the National Security Leadership Foundation, a non-profit organization pending 501c (3) status. He has worked in South America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Europe, focusing on intelligence and security interviewing current and former terrorists, including members of the Taliban. He is the author of “Sociocultural Intelligence: The New Discipline of Intelligence Studies” and the children’s book “American Patriotism.” You can follow him on Facebook.

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